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US Presidential candidates on Russia

What the top US Presidential candidates really think of Russia and Putin, from the sensible to the downright stupid.

US FlagRussia isn’t the only place holding a Presidential election in 2008, you know. The more eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted that there is a rather trivial contest currently taking place in America.

It’s Super Tuesday today in the US so, in the interests of making sure that all elections are covered fairly, I thought I’d take a look at what each of the remaining US presidential candidates has to say about Russia and about our hero Vladimir Putin, the mighty President they all hope one day to emulate…

Let’s start off with the Republican candidates. And, it must be said, some of them have some very strange views indeed.

First up is Mitt Romney, who really knows how to spew out the verbal vomit. Take, for example, his response to the news that Time Magazine had nominated Putin as their Person of the Year:

“Oh, you are kidding. That’s disgusting. I’m absolutely – I mean, are you – I mean, I haven’t seen Time. Are you serious?”

But at least he recovered his composure enough to tell us just why he was disgusted:

“Well, you know, he imprisoned his political opponents. There have been a number of highly suspicious murders. He has squelched public dissent and free press. And to suggest that someone like that is the man of the year is really disgusting. I’m just appalled.”

At least he’s concerned. Ron Paul, the doggedly determined outsider candidate, seemed to be more concerned with demonstrating his independence from mainstream thought than actual politics when he became the sole member of the House to vote against a 2007 resolution that noted…

“…the disturbing pattern of killings of numerous independent journalists in Russia since 2000, and urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to authorize cooperation with outside investigators in solving those murders.”

Ron Paul excepted, the Republican party line seems to be ‘we don’t love Putin’. Mick Huckabee is no exception. When asked about Putin’s infamous topless fishing picture, Huckabee confessed his true love for another:

“While I am impressed with the fact he can get out and go fishing, the shirtless photo doesn’t do anything for me. Now, if it was a picture of Scarlett Johansson, that would be another story.”


The Republican prize, though, has to go to old-timer John McCain, who drew on all his years of experience to look deep into Putin’s eyes and see more than just his soul:

“I know Mr. Putin. I’ve looked into his eyes, and I saw three letters — KGB.”

McCain’s not just about the soundbytes, though – he’s able to resist the urge to get all hysterical and give us considered analysis as well:

Putin is going to cause us a lot of difficulties…I don’t think it’s going to be a return to the cold war, they don’t have the population…anything that would bring around the kind of military might that they once had, even with the petrodollars….but they are trying to reassert the Russian empire…and they are going to be a thorn in our side.

As I write this, there are only two Democratic candidates still standing – Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Hillary, as you might expect, trots out a tired soundbite:

“This is the president that looked into the soul of Putin, I could have told him, he was a KGB agent, by definition he doesn’t have a soul, I mean this is a waste of time, right, this is nonsense.”

Now where have we heard that before?

Clinton seems to have pretty much given up on the idea of promoting democracy in Russia, too:

“I’m interested in what Russia does outside its borders first. I don’t think I can, as the president of the United States, wave my hand and tell the Russian people they should have a different government.”

At least Barack Obama finds time to talk policy about Russia, even if he is dull, and manages to slightly contradict himself:

We will not pursue unilateral disarmament. As long as nuclear weapons exist, we’ll retain a strong nuclear deterrent. But we’ll keep our commitment under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty on the long road towards eliminating nuclear weapons. We’ll work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert, and to dramatically reduce the stockpiles of our nuclear weapons and material. We’ll start by seeking a global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons. And we’ll set a goal to expand the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global.

So, there you have it. You can now make a considered decision as to which candidate best represents your views on Russia.

But, before you go, just a quick reminder of why these six candidates have survived this far – they’re not as stupid as Bill Richardson:

“If I am elected President I will… seek immediate negotiations with the Soviet Union.”

And now, to vote…


  • One more reason to vote for Ron Paul.

    Great blog.

    Incidentally, Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo and two little known Democrats were the only ones to vote against the IMBRA law which forces American men to be background checked just to be able to say hello to Russian women online. The law, which dishonestly calls internationally oriented dating sites “marriage brokers”, takes away the right of Russian women to broadcast their personal contact information in the manner they see fit. Instead, the US federal government is their nanny, regulating whom they can communicate with and when. The law is really about older American women implementing protectionism against young and beautiful competition.

  • It really doesn’t matter too much about what the candidates say publicly about Russia, but rather who is advising them. Obama, privately my favorite candidate (and that’s my personal opinion only), has a secret weapon in terms of a Russia advisor: Zbigniew Brzezinski

    Whether or not that’s a good or bad thing remains to be debated, but if the junior senator somehow managed to snap down the top office, Russia most certainly would not be ignored by ole Zig.

  • Sean – thanks, I’d missed that. How disappointing – of all the Republican candidates, McCain was by far my favourite. I might have to go for Huckabee now – at least he has a good eye for the ladies.

    James – Obama would make an interesting President, for sure. Generally I’ve been quite impressed by his foreign policy approach (or, at least, the policies of his advisors!) towards Russia. Sometimes dull is the way to go. I think he’d be a less divisive President than, say, Hillary, and he would probably give America renewed confidence in itself – whether that would be good for Russia or not, I’m not sure…

  • MT: “Michael McFaul, a Russia expert and political science professor at Stanford, is leading Obama’s Russia team.”

    Mcfaul, with Kathryn Stoner-Weiss, wrote one of the most misleading anti-Russian article in recent memory (The Myth of the Authoritarian Model:
    How Putin’s Crackdown Holds Russia Back, Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb 2008).

  • Good summary of the comments. I don’t expect much out of Hillary in in relation to Russia because her husband still thought Yeltsin was fantastic all the way to the end. I am not sure that he will ever admit to being blind to the chaos, theft, or mismanagement.

    I know that Fred Thompson already dropped out of the race, but he had a few words to say about the Soviet Union — in present tense. He like so many other politicians, both Russian and American, are still fighting old battles. The problem is that when both sides do this, they create the very problem they are trying to avoid.

  • I know that Fred Thompson already dropped out of the race

    I originally drafted this post a couple of weeks ago, with the intention of releasing it today. I figured that most of the candidates (Edwards & Giuliani especially) would at least hang on until then.

    Happily (for me, if not for Russia) the drop out candidates seemed to have reasonably sensible things to say about Russia – not very entertaining at all…

  • I’m sorry Russophile but some of the old battles are still relevant, increasingly so under Putin.

    I’m shocked that Clinton discounts the importance of Russia’s domestic policy, including is human rights record. No free democracy has ever made war on another free democracy, so that has to indicate why russia’s freedom and democracy is of international interest.

    The russian media is state dominated, the judiciary is a tool of the state and elections are a joke.

    Britain’s Guardian has a piece about the example of Vasily Alexanyan that makes that point well

  • “No free democracy has ever made war on another free democracy”
    indeed, but has ever a “not free democracy” made war on a “free democracy”?
    otherwise I have a dozen of examples to give

  • Colleen:

    Your Michael McFaul point reflects just how tilted the situation is. Strobe Talbott went through some tough times on getting a Clinton administration appointment, on account that he was considered “soft” on Russia. He’s nothing of the sort. Moreover, one time NSA Zbigniew Brzezinski is comparatively much harder on Russia to Talbott’s “soft”. Brzezinski had an easier time getting the NSA nod. I saw Talbott and Brzezinski work as a tag team during a Carnegie Endowment DC panel discussion against two Russian representatives. It looked as if the Russian representatives were paid to get pounced on.

    Some people out there have the private view that like Condoleezza Rice, McFaul knows better, but goes with where the wind is blowing. Some years ago on NPR, McFaul replied to me that he didn’t agree with much of what Brzezinski says.

    Concerning Russia among the Dems, there’s little apparent difference. Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke are not sweet at all towards Russia and Serbia. I understand that those two are involved with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. In comparison, Brzezinski and McFaul are arguably more moderate (though not by much, if at all). McFaul and Brzezinski have said that Russia will be okay in the long run and that it should be part of a Western alliance system. Some of their reasoning is questionable (put mildly). We aren’t dealing with the best options, thereby making it a tough call. All in all, is there anything fundamentally different between Obama and Clinton?

    Here’s a not so distant link showing a list of advisers for the candidates:

  • Hi, I’m ecstatic to report that Gary Hart is supporting Obama and could be poised to become Secretary of Defence or National Security Advisor. I have no link to provide, but I’m seriously wishing and hoping. In fact, it will be a perfect match IMO.

    Here are two articles that Hart wrote in 2007 that indicate how he will steer Russia policy:


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